Republican News · Thursday 8 May 1997

[An Phoblacht]

Sex appeal, shy Alex and censorship

By Laurence McKeown

I had thought of not making any reference at all in this week's article to the elections as I know the paper will be full of it, but then thought, what the heck, why not revel in it. It's not every day we get these wee (or not so wee) victories.

The problem is that there are so many different comments that could be made about it. For instance, did any of you compare the faces and gestures of the newly elected Sinn Féin members Gerry and Martin to those of Trimble and Paisley? You would have thought the latter had lost their seats given the doom and gloom with which they started at us through the TV cameras. I can understand the annoyance and disappointment of the losers and the Reverend Willie certainly treated us to a display of that, but surely the victors could appear just a teeny weeny bit happy. Even Dr Joe, I have to say to his credit, was fairly statesman-like in his acceptance of defeat (though he undid that in an Irish News interview on Tuesday when he called republicans `fascists').

d what of the newly-elected member for West Tyrone, Willie Thompson? I haven't even seen a photo of this man yet but had the opportunity to listen to him on Sunday morning on the radio outlining his political philosophy. There are a number of issues which the boul Willie holds dear to his heart. The first one, he says, is the issue of pro-life. There are too many abortions being carried out, he says, and he will be voicing opposition to this. Now the issue of abortion and a woman's right to choose is a topic guaranteed to raise emotive arguments whenever and wherever it is raised but I thought Willie's sincerity on the issue was somewhat weakened by his comments on the other issue which is dear to his heart, that of capital punishment. Willie wants to bring back hanging.

What about those people like the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Bridgewater Three and countless others who were wrongly convicted and would now be dead if capital punishment had remained on the statute books, he was asked in a later interview? Well, Willie replied, no system is perfect and much better that the occasional innocent person be hanged than the guilty remain alive. There you are now. I'm sure that inspires a lot of people. No doubt over the next five years Willie will treat us to more profound thoughts on his concern for life in all its various forms. By the way, Willie is also a lay-preacher. Surprise, surprise.

Some of the other radio comments were equally interesting or humorous. Reporting from Belfast City Hall on the morning of the count one reporter commented that he had been speaking to Alex Maskey about how he thought the count was going and how Alex was shy about giving any indication of whether or not Sinn Féin would win the seat. Back in the studio David Dunseath remarked on this extremely unusual phenomenon, a shy Alex Maskey. This, he said, was as rare an occurrence as a Tory who got elected.

Moving the studio discussion on to other constituencies David referred to North Belfast and how this seemed to be the only constituency where sex appeal was said to be a factor. He was not speaking, of course, of Cecil Walker but our very own Gerry Kelly. Fionnuala O'Connor disagreed with him and said this supposed sex appeal was not evident to her. That makes at least two who are apparently blind in this regard, the other being Ed Moloney writing in the Sunday Tribune the previous week. Maybe An Phoblacht should organise a phone-in on this topic. Does Gerry Kelly have sex appeal or not? Is he sexier than, say, Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness? If he had stood in West Belfast or Mid-Ulster would he have increased the vote? Could he even attract a cross-community vote by virtue of his particular appeal? These are issues which the Ard Chomhairle should take seriously when planning any future electoral strategy.

It appears though that while broadcasters and political commentators are free to interpret the election results and offer their opinions about the outcome on air they are not so ready to tolerate criticism of those same opinions. When Stephen Grimason of Radio Ulster said the election results were simply another tribal headcount an invited panellist challenged him. She (the only woman on the panel) said it was a derogatory statement about the electorate and their choice of who they voted for. Grimason was infuriated. Shortly afterwards a BBC official asked her to leave the studio even though she had been invited by the BBC to participate and offer her analysis of the results. It's hard to believe that these are the same people I have listened to being verbally bullied into silence by Paisley et al over the years. It certainly adds a new meaning to the slogan of `freedom of the media'. A freedom which is now apparently taken to mean the freedom to censor others.

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